For those of you who don't yet know, I am a Vietnam Veteran and an Anti-war Protester: then and now. I was diagnosed with PTSD by the Veterans' Administration in 1985 (the first year it occurred to me to ask "Whhhaaaaat?"); I received a disability rating in 1996, which was upgraded to 100% service-connected in 2004.
The Indochina Wars are ancient history to a good many Americans, for we are a radically ahistorical people: always ready to pull up stakes, "Move on to Texas", and forget what we left "back there". It always surprises me that it's been forty years (on April 4th) since I arrived in Vietnam; the memories are often more immediate and pressing than what I did this week. I am not the only one; I got an Anonymous comment this week on the "Quang Tri, Summer, 1968" thread.
Still, many of us--the survivors of violence, substance abuse, and self-destruction, the victims of which have outnumbered those killed during the war since the early 1990s--now have been warehoused in relative comfort; we lead quiet and modest lives for the most part, in out of the way places. We go far out of our way to avoid any semblance of conflict. We are remarkably gentle and often loving people, once you get through the veneer. We keep a low profile, rarely expressing ourselves with those we do not yet trust.
Remember Gulf War I? Run by Vietnam Veterans like Schwartzkopf and Powell, it was the Anti-Vietnam: quick, clean, did the job and came home to much acclaim. We vets were glad to join the acclaim, in part because we knew it was partly a guilty reaction and a wish to recognize us, however belatedly and indirectly. No need to say more to civilians; I've been in group with GW I vets.
And now we are at the fifth anniversary of the (Forgive me!) Godde damned invasion and occupation of Iraq for the domestic political benefit of the worst President in American History and his collection of fuckwitted callous arrogant thugs to distract the public from their utter incompetence and cluelessness about how to interact with the former colonial world. They lie to exploit the fears of the people for their own gain, and they trash what were once honored symbols of our country as they lead us, please, Godde, not irreparably, into fascism. And, once again, as in the Sixties and Seventies, our Congressional leaders put their Constitutional duty off the table, and posture for re-election. And what have we veterans been doing?
When I got back in 1969, I hoped, and prayed, and worked, and begged, that the American people would learn something from what we had done. That way, at least, there would have been a positive outcome from the blind arrogance, the futile overwhelming violence. Yeah, right.
The speed with which we as a people went from outrage to burial was stunning; despairing, I turned to my own affairs. Stunned and disgusted , I watched the Reagan/ Bush counter-revolution; if this is what my fellow citizens are capable of, better for us both if I avoid them.
And then Junior, who managed to make Dan Quayle look good, the world's best argument against inherited privilege, was given the golden opportunity; so he continued to read My Pet Goat until his handlers took him off-stage. Promptly, his advisers hid the evidence they had ignored, and made up a connection against a country, Poppy's old nemesis, full of oil: surprise! They drooled nonsense about "Mushroom clouds" which the press release transfer media presented as fact. After all, they were Very Important People in Positions of Public Trust.
Some of us not so important people demonstrated, of course. We argued the case was flimsy, and that war wasn't the only, or even a good option. But, within a couple of months, Captain Codpiece's media consultants declared "Mission Accomplished!". But nobody came home yet. And now nearly four thousand will have come home in secret, in aluminum tubes at midnight. And tens of thousands will drool in powered wheelchairs while their mothers adjust to a life of caregiver. And hundreds of thousands will fight to get what their government promised them, and be denied, until they give up, or kill themselves in one way or another: unnoticed again.
Five years. A presidential election. Until January of last year, a completely complaint Congress run by a man with slaves in American Samoan factories. Five years of demonstrations. Of supporting alternative candidates, including combat veterans slurred as "soft on security." Of ranting on the internet (Natassihusb--"Nat"; read it backwards) Of a Fascist court. Of a completely embarrassing foreign policy on display to a world that was sympathetic, briefly, in 2001, until they were told their pathetic and stupid help wasn't needed. Of the decimation of professional Intelligence, Foreign Policy, Defense, and Legal personnel, who were crushed and driven out by the the White House, AKA Dick Cheney.
And now we who have cried, and begged, and wept, and despaired to be delivered from the plague we called upon ourselves, are being driven from our homes, are losing our retirements, and face the whirlwind. We do not even dare to ask for justice from the Hague, for example, but only that the storm cease, and we be left to piece together our lives.
It has been a very painful five years to live through. The Abu Ghraib scandal was especially difficult for me, who had dealt with POWs. "Disappointing" seems too much an understatement, but we veterans are used to disappointment after all this time. We learned, long ago, not to expect anything for what we were asked to do, and did, except heartache and bitterness. We learned to watch others succeed, while we struggled. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former Pastor, has been in the news for his "anti-American" views lately; the difference between him and a lot of us, and not just veterans watching the horrors of another useless war, is that he's being noticed.
There's "shock and awe" this last couple of weeks that this is going to cost us more than $3 trillion dollars in direct costs, and multiple times more than that over the coming decades, even if we ended it promptly in the Spring of next year, which all sane people hope for. But there are the other costs, in lives diverted and destroyed, in so many needs not met, in all the slow, little seen ways we destroy our own security and pull our own civilization down to the dust. This war, too, will continue to bring woe to many who were young a few years ago.
Let's end this.
The Invasion of Grenada
I didn't want a monument,
not even one as sober as that
vast black wall of broken lives.
I didn't want a postage stamp.
I didn't want a road beside the Delaware
River with a sign proclaiming:
"Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway."
What I wanted was a simple recognition
of the limits of our power as a nation
to inflict our will on others.
What I wanted was an understanding
that the world is neither black-and-white
What I wanted
was an end to monuments.
W. D. Ehrhart